The verdict in Udayakumar custodial murder case in Kerala could not have come at a better time. Five cops were convicted – two of murder and three of conspiracy – on July 24, 2018, 13 years after the youth underwent fatal torture at the Fort police station in Thiruvananthapuram after being picked up by police for alleged theft.
The conviction comes amid a series of complaints against the Kerala police like the alleged custodial murder of Sreejith, a youth of Varappuzha in Kochi. While Udayakumar was picked up along with a history-sheeter, Sreejith ended up in lock-up in a case of mistaken identity. In another incident, the apathy of Gandhinagar police in Kottayam led to a heinous crime in which a Dalit Christian youth, Kevin Joseph, was abducted and murdered by the kin of his fiancee.
Even supporters of the Left Democratic government in Kerala agree that the police actions were a blot on governance, which otherwise seems to be on the right track. The successive governments – four since Udayakumar incident – have been making tall claims of reforming the police force with grand narratives such as 'Janamaitri Police' (people-friendly police). However, the Varappuzha incident earlier this year alone shows that the police, despite being known for their efficiency at national level, have not covered much distance between 2005 and 2018 in terms of investigation skills. Their sense of investigation, especially in crimes involving people of the lower strata of society, lies in a primitive idea of squeezing out information with the help of brutal physical power. Udayakumar's thighs were crushed, making one wonder whether the ghosts of Emergency were still haunting the Kerala cops.
Even as Udayakumar's elderly mother was running from pillar to post seeking justice for her slain son, the rogue elements in police seem to have been exploring new ways of torture and insensitivity that make more Udayakumars, Sreejiths and Kevins. The insensitive idea of 'more the torture more chances of confession' comes out of no texts of modern policing but from a penchant for violence. Such policing belongs to a bygone era where fear was used as a weapon to keep law and order. Unfortunately, the convicts in Udayakumar case and several accused in similar cases before and after that have not been either trained enough or able to comprehend this.
The new Kerala police chief, Loknath Behera, keeps making tall claims of cerebral policing where latest technology and scientific methods hold the key in investigation. “People expect that the police officers treat them with respect, behave decently and uphold justice. All members of the police force should strive hard to meet these expectations,” reads his message on the official website of the Kerala police. Ironically, all the recent incidents of ill-policing have happened under his rule. Nevertheless, one must also acknowledge that he had the audacity to admit that there's still something wrong – he arranged a behavioural training for the cops recently after the repeated allegations put the force in bad light.
It's a proven fact that higher conviction rate alone would bring down the number of crimes. Police force should not be an exception to this logic. They should be brought to the book, tried and punished when they take law into their hands out of mere arrogance and a wrong sense of immunity. Hence, one has to agree with former director general of Kerala police Jacob Punnoose who said the verdict in Udayakumar case is a lesson for the entire force.